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5 ways a sustainability lens can focus your mid-year reviews

<p>Formal reviews can be a powerful tool for driving employee engagement. Start by connecting to the company&#39;s core values and purpose.</p>

While some organizations have moved away from conducting formal performance reviews at mid-year and year-end, they are still the norm for many.

In theory, mid-year reviews are engaging opportunities to check in on goals and development plans. In practice, however, managers often see them as drudgery and discussions are lackluster, if they take place at all.

Discussing goals, including what’s going well, where more focus is needed and what support employees need from you, is important. You need this type of feedback from your manager and your employees need it from you. Goal discussions, however, don’t drive higher levels of engagement. Employees, particularly millennials, are focused on and motivated by learning and development, and they expect more purpose and connection at work.

Using sustainability programs can help focus your mid-year discussions with employees. Here are five ideas to get you started.

1. Develop skills that matter to the employee

In most organizations, career development remains a significant driver of employee engagement — that is, employee commitment — so developing skills that matter to your employees and to the organization is a good use of your time. And while many large organizations have leadership and functional competency models in place, if employees are interested in pursing a sustainability-related career path, they may need to develop a few additional competencies.

The book "Talent, Transformation, and the Triple Bottom Line" by Andrew Savitz, Karl Weber and Jossey Bass outlines several important organizational capabilities that are needed for sustainable success, which also apply in an individual leadership development context. These include capabilities that already may exist in an organization’s competency framework, such as innovation, collaboration, learning and adaptability, while others are more forward-looking and may not be covered in a typical model, such as long-term orientation, outward focus and interdependent thinking.

Ask yourself, “What are you doing to develop these capabilities in yourself and others? What could you be doing in the back half of the year to build one or more of these competencies into development plans?”

2. Focus on learning by doing

Ben Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

He had a point. If you involve your employees in an organizational effort that happens to intersect with their own interests, there is a much larger potential for learning and engagement. The ideal time to explore to explore the intersection is during mid-year discussions. The simplest way to find out is to ask questions such as:

• What do you most enjoy learning about in your current role?

• What other functions or departments are you interested in learning about?

• What subjects do you enjoy learning about outside of work (either through books, movies or experiences and so forth)?

You may be familiar with the 70:20:10 model. Originally developed by the Center for Creative Leadership, it suggests that 70 percent of development should come from challenging on-the job activities, 20 percent should come from coaching and mentoring and 10 percent should be related to training, such as courses and reading.

If someone wants to develop interdependent thinking, for example, 70 percent of efforts should be experiential. If you were working with someone with this development need, what types of project, leadership or volunteer opportunities can you provide — both inside and outside the organization or, ideally, something that intersects both?

3. Be resourceful when brainstorming

If your organization has a strategic volunteering policy in place, use the mid-year discussion to find out what organizations your team member is already working with. Could they take on a broader leadership role that would intersect with the competencies they need to develop?

In addition to showing your commitment to and interest in their development, using a CSR lens can educate and engage. A recent study out of Drexel University, published in May in the Journal of Marketing, suggests that CSR programs can strengthen connections between employees, supervisors and senior management, while driving greater associate engagement and customer service levels.

In terms of the other 20 percent (coaching and mentoring) and 10 percent (training), many large organizations have a plethora of online resources, and an increasing number are using open mentoring platforms to connect potential mentors and mentees.

4. Sometimes you’ll need to get more creative

When it comes to mentoring, leverage LinkedIn, where you have a network of potential mentor candidates at your fingertips.

For employees with specific interest is growing a sustainability career, many excellent associations, networking and educational groups are available, including Net Impact, Women in Green, Triple Punditthe Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series and the Sustainability Learning Centre.

As for training, the proliferation of massive open online courses, such as EdX and Coursera, are great starting points for free resources. Te@chThought has an online reference for nearly 50 additional sources for free e-learning options.

5. Connect with values and purpose

Purpose and connection are increasingly important to today’s employees, but tend not to get much airplay during mid-year discussions. Maybe they should.

As part of a green messaging course I recently completed through the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, we talked about the power of values-based messaging in the context of employee communications. What struck me is how seldom a values-based approach is used in ongoing employee communications, such as mid-year reviews.

If you want to take a values-based approach to a mid-year dialogue, you might ask questions such as: "What’s important to you, within and outside of the context of your career? How do you see the work you’re doing each day relate to what’s important to you?"

Taking the time to discuss what’s important and feeling as if your work has an impact matters. According to Net Impact’s "Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012," employees who report having the ability to make a direct environmental or social impact at work report higher job satisfaction levels, by as much as a 2-to-1 ratio.

Regardless whether your organization mandates a mid-year discussion, taking stock halfway through the year can be a beneficial exercise — especially if you use the opportunity to focus on development and connection.

Lens image by Denniro via Shutterstock.

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